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AWEJ Volume.5 Number.

2, 2014

Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English:
The Case Study of Marriage Contracts
Mohammed H. Al Aqad
Humanities Research Cluster, Research Management & Innovation Complex
University of Malaya, Malaysia

Over decades, there used to be a number of studies on Legal translation since it was one of the
most challenging issues for translators and it still a critical and authoritative translation produced
by legal bodies. Actually, translating legal texts might raise some problems in translation
pertaining to the differences between the Source and Target Texts. Thus, it can result in a certain
amount of ambiguity with respect to the legal texts, as it belongs to people‟s beliefs and cultures.
This study investigates the quality of the translated message from Arabic into English. Hence,
the focus is on the changes of the message in the translation process that is attributable to
functional & verbal equivalence in Arabic and English as well. The study will rely on Baker‟s
theory (1992) to examine whether the semantic changes affect the quality of the translated
message in terms of equivalence, along with Newmark methods (1988) in translation. The study
will analyse as well five different forms of marriage contracts translated by different native
translators in the Arabic as a source language and their correspondence into English as a target
language, in order to identify the cultural and linguistic equivalence by using functional
comparisons between the Arabic and English legal systems.
Keywords: Marriage Contracts, Translation Shift, Problems of Equivalence, Semantic Change.

Arab World English Journal
ISSN: 2229-9327


However. Most translation scholars and linguists agree that the translation process is achieved as a communicative process from a foreign language to the mother tongue. expressed in two different legal systems. For instance. According to Baker (1992). he is “an expert in intercultural communication. all of these examples attributed and affected by the culture and tradition of the Arabic language.(dowry). Amer (2010) states that. a number of professional translators encounter several challenges while trying to find out a matchable equivalent in the English legal system. the unfamiliarity of some translators with the modern theories and strategies of translation leads to problems and mistakes in translation. Accordingly. such as.2. ‫ لخ‬. Hence. According to Vermeer (1984:98). this means that the legal term in the first language is limited to the legal system of that language. in interpretation. Johnson (2010). whereas.for. ‫ م‬. This is what Newmark calls "translation service". thus. There have been lots of debates on translation methods. Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www. some scholars preferred 111 . Accordingly the modern definition of legal translation is that a translation between two different languages.for. from the above definition we can state the LAW definition as: a set of codified provisions.sense. It is a disaster to make mistakes in translation in general.5 Number. Sadaq. in legal translation they can unlawfully make a defendant lose his expensive law-suit. so translation considered a unique linguistic device that has the very important task of conveying the sense of the text from one language to another language. working as a mediator between two cultures and the differences of those cultures should be clear. ‫ ص‬. The problem is due to the varieties of word synonyms in the legal Arabic system which have no equivalence in the English system in terms of marriage contracts. the most common problems that legal translators face during the rendering of a legal text are the lack of verbal / functional equivalence in the target language. Eventually. whereas. and that cannot be understood or thus translated only through the legal system.word whereas others prefer sense. Meanwhile. Mahr. but also be bi . The legal texts are considered more complicated than others due to the heavy responsibility they carry and to the scanty background of tough legal terms and their bound nature system Coulthard. ‫ ش ك‬. the translation activity has various cultural and specific behaviors and there are differences between a priori knowledge of the recipients of the source culture and the priori knowledge of the recipients of the target culture. 2007). In aeronautics they may bring a plane down from the sky on people's heads. the word “law” refers to the different classifications in the legal domain. the translator shall translate the legal terms from the source language and transferred them functionally equivalent in the target language (Cao. So.awej. considering that the translator must not only be bilingual or multilingual. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad Introduction Translation is the gateway for understanding and dealing with others and their civilizations.or even multicultural. mistakes in chemical texts can cause a fatal poisoning or a terrible explosion. lay down. issued by the legislature and have binding effect to the people so that the offender citizen shall be punished whenever committing sin.AWEJ Volume. Finally. Shabkah. mistakes in this field of translation may be disastrous. the poor performance of an interpreter can also spoil the proceedings of a whole international conference.

legal texts are often treated as a distinctive type of language for special purposes (Taylor 1998). being bilingual or multilingual only is not enough. A text should be translated by sentences rather than by words. when the translator deals with legal documents such as international covenant. linguists. the first approach with the text. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad Literature Review According to Newmark (1991: 27). contracts. The Legal texts are to manage and monitor the human‟s conduct. with respect to the translation 112 . Nida and Taber (1994) highlighted the formal and dynamic equivalence and their changeable dual clash was modified many times. which is the way of conveying the same message in the target texts.. Clarity is sought in this type of texts because legal texts. and argues that any translation is determined by its purpose and an action exists only if it pursues a certain goal. theorists and translators such as Vinay. Also Halliday (2001) mentioned in his book that "the equivalent of the text among the source language and target language is to find an equivalent at the level of the entire text”.awej. As for Vermeer (1984:98). Grammaticallybound words. Vinay and Darbenet Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www. contracts etc. to translate more than a sentence unless the first two paragraphs are read. Newmark (1981) discusses. he should select the most appropriate translation strategy in order to translate the legal text. the translation activity has various cultural specific behaviours and there are divergences between a priori knowledge of the recipients of the source culture and the priori knowledge of the recipients of target culture. jargon words and modal particles might not be translated for good reasons. the reason for which these documents should be granted the highest possible degree of clarity and adequacy. are supposed to defend the rights of a person / a group or to impose obligations. Vermeer elaborates saying that the legal norms should be taken into consideration while the translator is executing his mission. Nida. Taber. in both its form and content. 82). Newmark. Formal equivalence. Stoddart (2000) says there are bound elements of translation theories behind the different concepts of equivalence which means that the conveyed message of the target texts is affected by the theory used in the source texts. all his focus should be on the communicative approach. Besides. According to him. as much as the translator can. Newmark (1981: 47) suggested in his book that. whereas. as literally or closely as possible. Thus. focuses on the message itself. such as charters. Nida and Taber define the translation process as “a reproducing process from the receptor language (SL) to the sender language (TL) with carrying the same natural equivalence for both languages” (1965:12. etc. is based on the principle of equivalent effect. agreement. dedicated their works to the role of equivalence in translation. the formal and dynamic equivalence.5 Number.AWEJ Volume. Also. besides many other functions collectively known as 'legislations' as well. House and Baker. it is not safe in most cases. "Translation is a skill of replacing a message or a text. and treaties. It is important to note that. translators should do more preliminary work as far as the text is difficult linguistically and culturally. Darbelnet.2. a translator has to be as well bicultural or even multicultural in order to produce a neat translation. Nida (1964) suggests two types of equivalence for a precise translation. Many scholars. the dynamic equivalence. However.. in one language by a message or a text in another language”.

d) Semantic translation. Newmark (1988). (literal translation) Observe the data in (a) and (b) and (c) We are concerned with the underlined sentences.5 Number. The data were taken from Gaza strip during the period of 2010 to 2012. House (1977). 1988:45). I have given to you my daughter in marriage for down payment dowry of …. translation) c. in this theory defines and determines all methods of valid translation that the translator has to follow according to the genre of his text. besides the way of employing and utilizing them in the text. the essential role of translation equivalence was described. The selection criteria were based on the significant content of contracts and abundant usage of more than 6 Arabic idioms in each contract. I marry you my daughter on dowry prepaid estimated to… and dowry delayed estimated to. He divides the translation process in terms of system and cultural importance. Methodology And Data Analysis The study data is based on five written texts of marriage contract taken from a total of 8 contracts found in Gaza. „In other words‟..and deferred dowry estimated to.2. b) Literal translation. It is important to mention that Arabic is the source text and English is the target text.AWEJ Volume. above the word 113 . into two main polars. the context equivalence. h) Communicative translation.. (a) equivalence at the word level. These categories are. Then target language highlights on: a) Adaptation. Data Analysis (Contract text) a. The study analysis has employed a contrastive methodology of the ST data with the TT data in semantic term as envisioned by Newmark (1988) and Baker (1992). Theoretical Framework According to Mona Baker book (1992). c) Idiomatic translation. and translated from Arabic into English by a professional office of translation service in Gaza..awej.. ‫ م ر مؤجل قدره‬.. c) Faithful translation.‫كحتك م كلتي ب تي علي م ر معجل قدره‬ b. Newmark argues that translation methods are relevant to the examination of the entire text (Newmark P. grammatical. the textual equivalence and finally the pragmatic equivalence. (E.. the Arabic phrase ‫ م معجل‬is translated into English as it is shown in data Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www. taken from Gaza Shariah Court. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad (1995) emphasized that translation is an equivalence oriented study and equivalence is the perfect approach to face the translation problems and decrease the error ratio of mismatching. In her book (1992-2006) she shows some relevant translation problems and outlines the five categories of translation equivalence that any translator should be familiar with. applied her theory on translation taxonomy and confirmed that equivalence must be involved in the translation process and could eventually be either overt or covert. b) Free translation.. So. It is noted that. source language highlights on: a) Word-for-word translation. source language polar SL and target language polar TL.

It is important to note that it is not allowed for her husband or her family to enjoy part of her dowry. in fact. a. and is only used in some cases just to give a closer meaning or clarification to the word Mahr..In the Arabic or Islamic system. the most familiar way of translating the Arabic term ‫ م‬is to keep it as it is transcribing it in Arabic „Mahr‟. the divergence of meaning. the explanation of the English word should be elaborated in the margin. regarding what have been shown above.2. translation) (literal translation) As observed in (a) and (b) the underlined phrases refer to different definitions and word orders between Arabic and English. the researcher discovers that. Still virgin as God created her …. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad (b) “a dowry down payment” which does not give the same meaning as in (a). Mahr is given to the bride as a kind of her appreciation and 114 . and she can use it as she wants. In other words. Still single as ALLAH created her. a.awej. the English term cash dowry gives another meaning. So the use of the word „dowry‟ in the English system is not an equivalent term for the word „Mahr”. The two parties agreed on a cash dowry of thousand dinars. and the lack of the English equivalent for such a word system are related to the semantic changes between the Arabic and English subsystem. ‫خل ت علي خ تم ب‬ (Contract text) b. Here the word dowry doesn‟t give the same meaning in English as in (b)„a cash dowry‟. Therefore. translation) (literal translation) www. c. c.5 Number. in contrast with the word dowry in English. In fact. ‫لف ي‬ ‫لط ف علي صداق‬ ‫ت‬ (Contract text) b. the meaning of „Mahr‟ or ‫ م‬in Arabic is the amount of payment which is have to be paid by the man to his wife before ceremonies. in contrast with the Arabic word " ‫ "م‬or as it known among Arab translators as „Mahr‟ which means a mandatory required amount of money which paid by the groom to the bride before the ceremony of wedding. the word „dowry‟ in English means the money or estate that a woman brings to her groom as endowment or devotion.AWEJ Volume. The Arabic term in line (a) " ‫ " ص‬is attributable to the term “Mahr” which is considered as a requirement to complete the marriage. which required the payment to be done by woman to her husband. which means that the use the word dowry in the English marriage contract is wrong and sometimes could be confusing to the translator. In addition to that. the man should give a wedding gift or dowry to the bride. (E. Furthermore. Agreed the two parties on dowry cash of …. Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 (E.

Indeed. which is more common in the Islamic discourse /interactions. In another context.AWEJ Volume. All the great literary translations should carry out with the implicit knowledge of the methods of translation as described in Newmark theory (1988). one cannot help wondering. There is a major divergence between “still single as God created her” and “still virgin as ALLAH created her" from a religious point view. if the reason the Americans refused to take the League of Nations seriously was not because many of their documents were unmodulated and un-adapted renderings of original French texts. however. the girl could be single but that does not mean she is still virgin. Also as Gide‟s preface to his translation of Hamlet clearly shows. Here the intended meaning is the virgin one who is never been touched or had any interaction with men.5 Number. she is still single but not virgin. It is noted that the Arabic phrase ‫ علي خ تم ب‬gives a dual meaning in English: "created on the ring of her god" or still single as God created her. which means that she could have had a sexual interaction before marriage and that is illegal in Islam.awej. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad Table 1.2. The illustration below shows some 115 . The correct translation is “still virgin as ALLAH created her". just as the Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www. the meaning of single is different from the word virgin in the religious text. Obviously the two literary translations do not give the exact meaning which is attributable to cultural and linguistic variation.

All teachers must obligate to the emergency law c. The other two example in (2. b. cultural. which means. the functional translation method should be Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www. in other word.5 Number. the literal translation of Arabic legal sentences into English is a very crucial matter. Here. that of intellectual. school textbooks. due to the English equivalent of “‫ ”ا س ح‬is „may not‟ in English. As a result of that. using literal translation method in translating these sentences is not a good strategy. written by translators who are either unable to or who dare not venture into the world of oblique translations.AWEJ Volume. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad “sabir atlantique” has its roots in ill-digested translations of Anglo-American originals. unfortunately. the English equivalent of „obligation‟ in the previous Arabic legal sentences are “shall and may not” but not “must or cannot” since the later does not convey the same message as in Arabic. e.. due to that the colloquial meaning differs from the legal sense. 3) express that. and linguistic changes. which over time can be effected by important documents. (3) a. The following examples illustrate the differences of equivalence in translation between Arabic and English in the legal and colloquial translation. c. in the first example (1) the translation of Arabic word " ‫ ”ا س ح‬into „won‟t allow or cannot allow or even have no permission‟ in English does not carry the same legal sense as Arabic. ‫ل‬ ‫ت خ في‬ ‫لك‬ colloquial (legal) ‫ا يج‬ You cannot smoke in this symposium You may not smoke in this symposium colloquial (legal) The previous examples demonstrate that.2. c. lack of space prevents us from discussing further. ‫لجلس‬ ‫ا س ح لك بحض‬ I will not allow you to attend this session colloquial sentence You don‟t have permission to attend this session colloquial You can‟t attend this session colloquial You may not attend this session (legal sentence) (2) ‫كل ل سي يجب يلت م ب‬ a. d. etc. b. journals. ‫لط ئ‬ b. (1) a.awej. 116 . All teachers shall obligate to the emergency law d. English Equivalence of Arabic sentences in legal text. film dialogues. we touch upon an extremely serious problem.

is complicated. the word "magistrate" in all European languages means “judiciary man “ ‫ جل ل ض ء‬. For example: translating a term such as (examining magistrate) into Arabic. by adding other lexical words which show Arabic language a preservative language. " ‫” ل ح لع لي‬. besides. On the other hand. Arabic is a cogent force. attractive and gets the point across in as logically as possible. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad taken into consideration in translating such texts. However. all these lexical words indicate the meaning of “defendant” in English but do not give functionally the same equivalence to Arabic. so the translator is supposed to search tirelessly for the appropriate term of functional equivalent. But in the English legal system it‟s a "Judicial officer who is authorized to investigate research and examine the legal matters. ‫ ح كم لتح ي‬and in the Lebanese legal system they call it as Forensic investigator. which is used in more than one legal system. Findings Translating the legal term from one legal system to another such as the Arabic and the English reveals some equivocal and oblique translation. it is simple. or an „opponent of‟ ‫” ل صم‬All these synonyms do not convey the same Arabic message. In many cases a perfectly qualified translator or magistrate may not always be able to provide a correct translation for such terms. the Arabic Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www. which seems to be vacant of this type of juxtaposition. In spite of 117 . The study reveals that every language has its certain terminology.5 Number. 6. The study shows that Arabic is a governed language due to the use of many orders especially the „semantic governed. unlike the English text. The translator adopts mixed techniques by translating the English source text with its equivalent into Arabic. Although. referential equivocal from English to Arabic due to fat that each language has its own nature. For instance. the Arabic legal system such as the Moroccan legal system calls it „Investigation Judge' . The study divulges the problematic of translation. and that exact translations of terms and the fact of matching the legal concept is sometimes impossible. in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the synonyms of this term is Bureau of Investigation " ‫” ي لتح ي‬due to the fact that the Saudi Arabia judiciary system is voided from the position of examining magistrate. Functional translation is in some sense way better than the literal translation. The word is a relatively common use in the judicial system. which makes it easier to express crucial equivalent of the other language. For instance: the functional equivalent of the English legal term (defendant) in Arabic is ‫„ ل عى علي‬offender‟ but it is not „complained of‟ " ‫” ل شك م‬.2. since there are two explanations that appeared together in the same text.awej.AWEJ Volume. ‫ ضي لتح ي‬In the Tunisian legal system it is called Magistrate of Investigation.

Conclusion Long convinced that legal translation has to be literal. and it is in the situation of the S. Consequently. thus understanding the legal term and its translation into another language depends on the understanding of its locus in the legal system to which it belongs. 255). To develop translation competence. 6). proverbs. 342) (ibid). Equivalence is the perfect technique when the translator is dealing with idioms. same phoneme and morpheme but different meaning due to the legal system and the terms followed by that system. while using completely different wording” (p.AWEJ Volume. the Arabic sentence can sometimes be built with no subject. For instance. Again.L text that translators have to look for a solution. such as functional theories. (p. This means that the translator can only translate the legal term into the TL by understanding its position in the legal system of the SL. Arabic is more flexible than English for instance.awej. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad structure is less complex than French and German which are grammatically more demanding than the English language. Legal translators should Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 118 . Legal translation differs from other types of translation in two basic components: the legal system and the term associated with that system. 255). the Arabic language has some words which have the same lexical structure. They conclude by declaring that the need for creating equivalences arises from the situation. are more effective than training approaches used almost two decades ago. and allows both Verb Subject Object and Subject Verb Object sentence structures. Being exposed to and aware of modern approaches to translation help translators emphasize more on the communicative and functional nature of legal translation. nominal or adjectival phrases and the onomatopoeia of animal sounds. Translation competence presupposes not only in-depth knowledge of legal terminology.2. but also thorough understanding of the communicative legal function of such texts. The paper has shown that current trends of translator training.5 Number. unlike the English sentence. they will be able to focus on "particular instantiations of language use. to legal translation. clichés. Vinay and Darbelnet assert that the equivalent expressions between language pairs can be granted only if we get them as a list in a bilingual thesaurus as „full equivalents‟ (p. which is a relatively a modern science. translators and linguists frequently focus their attention on terminological issues. Such approaches can effectively bridge the gap between academic and professional worlds of translation. in specific texts and contexts" (Colina 2002. Vinay (1995) observed the equivalence-oriented translation as an operation that “replicates the same situation as in the original. Legal translators in Arabic can benefit from the translation training that focuses on the application of pragmatics. translators need instructions in terms of translation theory.

265– 281.2. (1992). About the Author: Mohammed H. Colina. (2007). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Belgium. De Hague-London-Boston. Language and linguistics compass 1. Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur. (2011). D. His research interests include: Linguistic domain. China. Malaysia. 333-356. Currently. Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www. F. Legal practicing and Forensic Linguistics. (2009). Al Aqad has published and presented many conference papers worldwide in Hong Kong. Translation Studies. M. Acknowledgment The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions to improve the quality of the paper. (2007). Interlingual uncertainty in bilingual and multilingual law. Mexico City. Research Management & Innovation Complex. Singapore and Moscow. Probability in Semantics. Translating Law. (2007). Al Aqad is currently working as a researcher at Humanities Research Cluster. Azirah H. an Analysis of Interactions in the Syariah Court. London: Routledge. Journal of Pragmatics. Language of the Legal Process. (2002). S. University of Malaya. major Translation from Faculty of Languages and Linguistics.AWEJ Volume. the last paper was in the International Association of Forensic Linguists Conference. Arabic: An essential grammar. Kluwer Law International. References Abu Shaqra.5 Number. Cohen. Anyhow. Al Aqad is a holder of MA in Linguistics. New Approach to Legal 119 . He's writing a paper on Miscarriage of justice in the Arab world. Multilingual. 39: 69–83. Cao. Baker.awej. Palestine. and 50603 University of Malaya. Cao. In Other Words: A course book on translation. Mexico. London: Routledge. A. 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad add one more skill to their linguistics and translation skills which is the comparative skill between two legal systems: the legal system of SL and the legal system of TL. D. & Norizah H.

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org 121 . 2014 Translation of Legal Texts between Arabic and English Al Aqad Appendixes A Arab World English Journal ISSN: 2229-9327 www.2.AWEJ Volume.5 Number.awej.